Friday, July 04, 2008

On the Internet everyone knows you're a dog

In the very early days of the web, anonymity was the default. You had to do things to reveal your identity. This led to a famous 1993 New Yorker Cartoon, captioned: "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog".

That lasted about as long as the first cookie.

Now, everyone knows you're a dog. They know your breed, your taste in poodles, your favorite food, where you buried your bones, and the fact that you have a shameful chewing habit.

There are no secrets on the net. Analog information was a solid, it moved with difficulty. Digital information is a gas, it expands to fill any opening. I pontificated about this to my informatics classmates in the early 90s, but it soon became apparent the cause was lost.

Nobody seemed to care. Now we understand Humans are programmed to ignore privacy considerations. Our natural state is to forget that people observe and remember what we do. We can imagine that we developed this trait as a way to stay sane in very crowded ancestral living conditions, but we don't know why it is.

Maybe Gen Y will understand this, but Gen X and the Boomers mostly don't.

So people are shocked to read about stories like Google must surrender YouTube viewer records. Including those XXX videos you've been enjoying, the movies you've been illegally consuming, and those videos that Cheney really hates. Sure this sort of thing happens every few months, but net users are programmed to forget.

Try to remember. There is no easy privacy on the net. Only the most technically competent can get some measure of privacy, and it will come with a constantly annoying cost. If someone with power cares enough, it will be penetrated.

On the other hand, there is a peculiar sort of forgetfulness. I used to write my blogs using my birth name. This led to some odd interactions with corporate executives who'd googled on my name. I changed the title of the blog, moved to URL to a custom domain, and now, if you Google on my "true name" you'll have to look very hard to find a reference to the blogs.

There's hope for those Facebook teens after all.

Try to remember the bit about no privacy though. It's gone, and it ain't coming back.

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